Thinking outside of the *ice* box

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking on “Grow Your Key Talent” to ice men. These are not aloof, indifferent and detached guys. They are the folks — predominantly men — who run ice manufacturing plants that provide cubed ice for beverages and coolers. They also provide ice for construction in warm climates so the cement doesn’t set up too quickly.

In my pre-presentation research, I talked to four key players in the association. They tutored me on the state of the ice industry. Various competitive threats were chipping away at their margins and their profits were melting.

Yet few of them really embraced innovation. They didn’t really know what to do but to yield to the pricing pressure and keep their customers by their service. In a mature market, as ice making has become, their product has become commoditized. There was no brand distinction for their end user. Consumers bought whatever was convenient when they bought their beer for the beach, camping, picnic or party.

I determined that my job was to help them see that if they didn’t innovate, they would soon go the way of their predecessors who went bankrupt when the refrigerator was invented. These icy ancestors didn’t see how to do anything different but deliver ice door to door. But some of their forefathers discovered new ways to sell a form of the same product, to find new markets, or to develop a new angle.

My premise was that in order to innovate, they had to use all their resources better. They had:

  1. hard assets (buildings, trucks, equipment),
  2. customers (retailers), and
  3. their staff.

By tapping the talent and creativity of their staff they would get new ideas on new products/services, new ways their staff could be more efficient to increase their margins, or new ways the employees could free up the CEO’s time to allow him to think of new ways to use their assets.

During the presentation, I led them through exercises where they could share best-practice ideas in each of the key areas. Great ideas came out that nearly everyone could adapt.

I encouraged them to devote 5-10% of their time to thinking of new ways to transition into new markets. We discussed specific products for defined markets (e.g., smaller bags of ice for college campus refrigerators, gourmet ice for high-end markets, flavored ice for tea and cocktails).

I shared ideas for creating brand loyalty with the consumer that would motivate them to even go out of their way to buy a specific brand, not just whatever the convenience store carried. Some were skeptical that consumers would buy into these brand loyalty ideas, but the ice men who protested were stuck in what had worked in the past, just like a caveman encased in an icy tomb. They needed to defrost their creativity and focus on what they needed to do to thrive in the future.

They left with new ideas and verve for thinking outside the ice box!

If you find yourself in a mature market, where competition is based nearly solely on price, how can you ensure you won’t go the way of the horse-drawn ice delivery business?

If you would like to explore how to encourage your people to help you innovate, contact me and we can discuss how I can help.